Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 5, 2004

Return of the snowbirds

By Jody Anderson

Upon wings of steel or gliding on rubber tires, another type of bird is returning over the next few weeks with the advent of spring . . . snowbirds.

The practice of senior citizens temporarily moving to warmer climates for the winter seems to be a growing phenomena.

Usually, snowbirds leave just after Christmas, and then return before Easter, in order to spend time with their families at both occasions.

Weather appears to be a dominating factor for many local snowbirds, although other reasons are health concerns, and the lower cost of living.

“They like the warm air and low humidity,” commented Gordy Birkholz Jr. of Lester Prairie, referring to his parents, Gordy and Doreen Birkholz.

The Birkholzes have been wintering in Arizona for the past eight years, he said. They are due back next month, he added.

“It’s the warm climate. It’s beautiful (in Texas),” agreed Zoa Fasching of Winsted, who just returned herself. Fasching has spent the past 14 years in Texas, about seven miles from the Mexican border, she said.

“I like the change of weather,” said Milt Jensen of Howard Lake. Jensen has gone to Arizona for the past 12 years with his wife, the late Dorothy Jensen.

The mild Arizona weather allows Jensen to enjoy his wood carving outside, he said.

Fasching also noted many services that are cheaper in Mexico, just over the border, but still of good quality.

“People flock over here for the dentist,” she said of Mexico. “They’re very good.” There are many other goods and services that are cheaper in Texas than other snowbird locations such as Arizona or Florida, she added.

Many potential snowbirds start out by visiting friends who are already warm winter converts, and then become convinced that it is a desirable lifestyle upon retirement.

Melvin and Margaret Millerbernd of Waverly go to Hawaii every winter for the past four years.

The idea came to them when they went on vacation to the island state before their retirement, and happened upon a real estate agency that caters to snowbirds in Oahu.

“It’s just beautiful,” Margaret said, “I always thought the pictures I had seen were ‘doctored,’ but they aren’t.”

She also went on to dispel the myth that Hawaii is impossibly expensive; “Once you get out of the tourist areas, it’s not too bad,” she said.

There are several housing options available to the potential snowbird: many buy some type of recreational vehicle, such as a ‘fifth wheel’ or a Winnebago.

Gas prices, tolls, road conditions, and even windy days are all factors to be taken into consideration with this choice, since wind can drive up gas mileage costs.

Others prefer to rent a condominium or make use of a time-share contract for the duration of their stay; in this case, maintenance fees must be considered.

The Jensens rented the same property during their 12 year stays.

A second home is a less popular alternative, due to tax issues. Hotels also offer substantial savings to a client who is desirous of a prolonged visit, and sometimes will reimburse the taxes to long-term guests.

Although the word ‘retiree’ inspires images of restful solitude, it would seem quite the opposite is true since many lead active lifestyles down south.

Snowbirds report that there are always new people to meet, games to play, potluck dinners, and dances to attend.

Card-playing, swimming, and many other activities are available, Fasching reported.

There are also many other Minnesotans who gather in the south, too, she said.

“It’s like one big family,” Fasching commented, saying that she didn’t cook once when she spent three weeks recovering from surgery in Texas.

However, all the snowbirds make their way home to family and friends in the north.

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